Landing in Kochi amidst the multitude of beautiful Coconut trees, and dressed in my balmy pink dhoti and tunic top, I just knew that this was going to be an absolutely great trip!
I was here for the annual Kochi-Muziris Art Biennale, a huge art exhibition spread across 12 venues around the city! The main part of the fair is located in Fort Kochi, also known as ‘Old Kochi’, which has succeeded in still retaining its old-world charm. I was staying at the Brunton Boatyard Hotel, a boutique hotel that recreates the colonial-era ambience, having been built on the same spot as a Victorian shipbuilding yard from the 1800’s! The area at the time was an important trade center for commodities like Malabar pepper and other southern spices. The hotel touches the peaceful Kerala backwaters and its historical background just adds to my love for it! I was there with a co-blogger and very close friend and our only agenda for the three days was to explore the beautiful art, eat some delicious food and have copious amounts of wine! This was no doubt a much-needed break from the otherwise fast-paced lives we lived in a city like Mumbai.
Our first stop was the Durbar Hall venue that housed the live installation of artist Gary Hill, titled ‘The Dream Stop’. It consisted of a large empty room with white walls reflecting back the projections of the people standing inside it, giving a surreal experience to the viewer, very similar to how it is in our dreams. The interesting part however is that we can see no cameras actually recording the live footage until we are told that there are in fact 31 live hidden cameras in the gigantic steel dream catcher which hangs in the center of the room! It was truly an amazingly planned and executed concept.
We continued on to Aspinwall House, one of the main venues of the Biennale that housed some of the centerpieces of the fair. This included another commendable life-size installation by Dia Mehta, titled ‘Bathroom Set’, which was a bathroom made entirely through a paper-mache technique using newspaper and magazine cutouts of pop-culture! The ‘Sea of Pain’ by Chilean artist Raul Zurita was also a grasping experiential installation of an enormous body of ankle-deep water that symbolized the plight of Syrian refugees.
Apart from the actual art works and installations, the Old Fort Kochi area itself was an art piece with its tiny quaint lanes and charming houses… Whilst walking around I was able to capture some great shots encapsulating the charm that the area has still managed to preserve so well! The writer in me was especially excited to notice that excerpts from novels were handwritten on walls around the place, extending the vibe and essence of the biennale beyond its venues. We were also able to drop by the happening haunts of Fort Kochi such as The Old Harbour Hotel, a heritage hotel that was the very first hotel in this area, dating back 300 years and built in the lovely Dutch style of architecture. Other tiny cafes like the Kashi Art Café and the Xandari Harbour restaurant also provided for scenic locations and artsy interiors! The food was great too and we made sure we filled our tummies with the South Indian favorites like dosas and uppams and of course filter kaapi made in the traditional Indian manner!
Despite the humidity and merciless mosquito bites, the trip was extremely pleasant and exciting! Exploring this lovely area with its culture and history was a special experience, and tying that in with an art fair made it the most ideal trip! The Kochi biennale happens once every two years and goes on for around 3 months, hosting visitors from all around the world who come in to experience the art and its surroundings. It is truly commendable to see how the artists make use of the actual ambience to highlight their art even further! The biennale is on till March 2017 and I urge you to make a visit, if not for the art then definitely for this charming place that is still frozen in a beautiful time capsule of its own!
Author: Sanjana Shah